In the summer of 2019, DMA’S completed sessions for their upcoming third album ‘THE GLOW’ in the historic Westlake Recording Studios. Working with the Grammy-winning producer Stuart Price proved to be a career highlight for the band. Always eager to discover more about production, Johnny Took enjoyed learning from Price by observing how he worked. Matt Mason loved his ability to conjure an amazing sounding record from a laid-back vibe, while Tommy O’Dell praises Price’s wide-ranging musicality and inspiring energy.
“Listening to the record brings back some cool memories and a really positive vibe,” notes Tommy several months later. “This record is the one we were ready to make, and the one that we needed to make.”
Working in Hollywood with one of the world’s most renowned producers shows how far DMA’S have come from their early days back home in Sydney. “We’d been in bands for years playing shitty venues,” recalls Mason. “There was a moment where we thought we could try to make this into something that might become a career. We planned it, but we didn’t expect it to work.”
Most of the band’s early recording sessions were located in Johnny & Tommy’s rundown Newtown apartment. They’d start the day by flipping a mattress up against a wall to make some space: something which also dampened the reverb in the room and blocked out some of the traffic noise from the adjacent highway. They’d all record together in the same room, which is an approach they wouldn’t revisit until they worked with Stuart Price.
It was a modest, DIY attempt to get the project off the ground but one which paid off. They first broke through with their 2016 debut album ‘Hills End’ (Mason: “I got to quit my job and do this full-time – that’s when it felt like I’d made it!”) and then stepped up another level with 2018’s ‘For Now’. They’ve ticked off landmark moments ever since: two domestic Top 10 albums; 200 million streams; five ARIA Music Award nominations; and an MTV Unplugged session. Even Liam Gallagher – one of their heroes – thinks they’re biblical.
As thoughts turned to making a new album, Johnny spent ten months living in Edinburgh to help him identify a fresh perspective on the band’s sound. “As a songwriter, I like the idea that you can move anywhere and be inspired by your surroundings, the people or a different way of life.” He’d stroll through the city’s cobbled streets with the Chemical Brothers or Underworld booming through his headphones, then duck into an old pub when the Scottish winter chill set in.
Enamoured by giving DMA’S an electronic twist, he embraced synths and drum machines – something the band had been flirting with for years. Some might consider those influences to be a step out of his comfort zone, but for Johnny it was another “different avenue you can take sonically.” After all, at various points in his life he’s played everything from country to rock to shoegaze.
Johnny started firing ideas to Tommy and Mason in Australia. “It was exciting and interesting to delve into those different aspects of production,” says Tommy. “We were very open to going down that direction when the songs needed it, but we didn’t want to push it where it didn’t suit. We’ve been building up to this record. Some of the tunes on the previous record were heading in that direction.”
The album took shape, first with two songs recorded an hour outside of Sydney at the legendary Grove Studios with Scott Horscroft, then three at RAK Studios in London with Stuart, before it was completed in Westlake. The result is a collection of songs that are sure to be sung back to them at festivals all over the world. From their emotive heart to their towering hooks, the core traits that have earned them a huge following are still prominent. But now their anthemic sound is infused with a euphoric flood of alt-pop flair with pulsating synths and taut beats.
The songs are equally at home in two disparate environments. Their intimacy and engaging sonic touches provide some headphone escapism, while the huge choruses will prove to be electrifying highlights of future live shows. ‘Life Is A Game Of Changing’ is a perfect touchstone of what to expect. It’s an exhilarating rush of big beat dynamics, sun-kissed Balearic dance vibes and the guitar-meets-electro hybrid of latter day New Order. Its lyrics reflect Johnny’s experiences in Edinburgh. “It’s about changing things up but staying true to yourself. You’re still who you are, but you’ve got to keep moving otherwise you’ll go crazy.”
DMA’S talk of their “Frankensteining” creative process. Songs are refined by different members or will evolve over time. The buoyant brighter-than-sunshine title track is a case in point, having been fine-tuned over the years. As Tommy summarises, “Some parts were written when we were going through break-ups and others were written more recently when our lives were very different. For me it’s a snapshot of where we were and where we’re at now. That’s the reason why it’s one of my favourites.”
Another of Tommy’s favourites is ‘Learning Alive’, with a Lennon-esque intro pulling on the heart-strings and then scaling up the drama. And yet DMA’S save the biggest surprise for last. ‘Cobracaine’ is a maximalist melting pot of sounds. An escalating wall of guitars lays the foundation for a tense, almost trancelike beat with vocals filtered through harmonies and vocoders.
Mason first wrote the song when he was a teenager. It was inspired by a dark take on the Australian tradition of schoolies – an end-of-term rite-of-passage similar to spring break. As he explains, “Often kids have just got their driving licences and there’s a lot of drinking, so there are quite a lot of car accidents. It’s a pretty sad time, kids die as soon as they finish school.”
A positive aspect emerged from this downbeat topic. As the band planned to release the song, Mason got in touch with the long-lost friend that he wrote it with all years ago. “He doesn’t play music any more, but he’s got a songwriting credit on a song that could be a big single. He said it inspired him to start playing guitar again.”
All these strands feed into making ‘THE GLOW’ the band’s best album to date. It comes as things are taking off. They recently sold-out the O2 Academy Brixton & Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl and have since confirmed an even bigger show at London’s cavernous Alexandra Palace. Every achievement is the result of DMA’S persisting to triumph against the odds. This time around, the driving fact was having the bravery to embrace change. And that’s a theme that echoes throughout the record.
“A lot of people fear change,” states Johnny “But like adrenaline, if you use it in the right way it can definitely be a positive.”
Tommy has the final word. “In the last eighteen months we’ve started gaining momentum, and more people are enjoying music that was originally just meant for us. That’s why we do it – to build that connection with people.”For tour dates and more visit: dmasdmas.com/